She is a trendsetter; she is Maria Rebello, the first Woman Referee across the Globe to officiate in a Country’s Premier League match.
As if officiating the Pune FC vs Shillong Lajong match wasn’t enough, Maria got another posting as the Fourth Official for the crucial Bengaluru FC vs Pune FC match.
In a freewheeling interview with AIFF Media, Maria spoke about her feat, emotions, challenges, captaining India, the road ahead and much more.
How was the feeling standing as the Fourth Official in the crunch clash between Bengaluru FC and Pune FC?
This match was played in a very high note with both Teams playing positive Football. I’m on the edge of my learning curve. My duty was to maintain discipline in the Technical Area and I just cannot compromise on it. From a Supervisor’s perspective there can never be any compromises. Whenever there was a need to intervene I never hesitated. Sometimes dealt with politeness and sometimes yes I was very assertive, and I am happy I could manage to control them.
Did the intensity and significance of the tie get to you during the match?
This was the first time I was officiating in such a high-voltage top-tier League match with so much at stake. Both the Coaches and the Officials and Players in the dugout responded positively. They are no complaints from my side. As a Fourth Official too you grow in confidence and get to know the Coaches and Players better.
In an earlier match (Pune FC vs Shillong Lajong) you became the first female Referee across the Globe to officiate as a Referee a Country’s Premier League. Did you realise the magnitude of your achievement?
Of course I do and I respect it. The feeling is still to sink in, as you said the magnitude of it. (Pauses) It made me realise the relevance of Women’s Day as it happened on that day.
What exactly do you mean by that?
I am not a person who remembers and dates. I do respect Women’s Day but it was a coincidence. That’s the way I look at it. That it can get so big and with so many implications was unknown to me.
What implications are you talking about?
I mean beginning Women’s Day on the best possible note possible. With all that is happening around concerning the safety of Women, the fact that I took centrestage between 22 men and marshaled proceedings was kind of inspiring. That’s the kind of feedback I received.
What were your initial reactions?
(Smiles). It was like ‘Yes Maria you did it’. I can’t put it in words. I had never felt like this before. I said to myself that all my hard work finally paid off. I keep on saying that without the support of Goutam Kar (Head of Referees, AIFF) and all my colleagues this would not have been possible. However clichéd it may sound, it holds so very true.
Take us through those 90 minutes.
Initially, I was nervous. But then I gained in confidence as the game progressed. The first decision was followed by the second and by then I was in total control soaking in the pressure and relishing it. The Players were very supportive too. They did not try to sway me or play a trick or two.
Walking into the game did you draw any pre-conceived picture of how things can be?
No. I told myself that this is just another Match and that the rules stay the same. If I had apprehensions — say a brawl broke out or Players not accepting my decision, charging at me and so on, things could have been difficult for me. However, it wasn’t that hard and I’m happy the match had no major issues.
What prompted you to take to refereeing so early?
At the age of 31 I retired as a Player. There were various reasons. I was at my peak when I called time on my Playing career. I Captained the National Team in the 2001 AFC Women’s Championship in Chinese Taipei. Playing for one’s Country and listening to the National Anthem especially on a foreign soil is something very special and I would cherish it for my entire life.
I wanted to stick to Football. The game is my passion and it would have been very difficult to live without it. So I took to Refereeing as I felt it was the only option to be in direct contact with the game.
What next for Maria Rebello?
I want to inspire more female Referees to make it to the top flight. This cannot stop here. We need more participation of Women Referees who are equally capable to make it to the Airtel I-League and reach higher limits.
(Interview courtesy AIFF Media / Picture courtesy Bengaluru FC)